Trading Dodger Blue for teal

If there was ever a true blue Dodger in this age of baseball free agency, it was Paul Lo Duca.

He was born in Brooklyn, the long-time home of the organization before its move to LA. He’s the son of a lifelong Dodgers fan, who has followed the team since the days of greats like Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

Paul was drafted by the Dodgers in 1993 and battled his way from an obscure late-round pick into an All-Star caliber, power-hitting catcher.

Certainly the type of feel-good material movies are made of, but sometimes the business of sports gets in the way of good story lines.

The day before the July 31 trading deadline, Lo Duca was traded away from his only professional home, finding a new home on the opposite coast with the Florida Marlins. Rather than getting to contend for a division title, the catcher now finds himself on the fringe of the wild card race.

"We’re still getting used to it," said his older brother, Anthony, the coach of Sedona Red Rock’s baseball team.

Indeed.

While the approaching trade deadline always spawns an array of rumors each July, Lo Duca certainly didn’t see a move to Florida coming. If anything, baseball observers saw him ending up in Arizona in a possible trade for Randy Johnson.

Lo Duca told ESPN recently that he first learned of his trade from late-night television coverage. Since no one from the Dodgers had contacted him personally, he went to work as usual the next day.

When he arrived in the clubhouse, he saw his name mentioned on TV again in the trade with Florida. It was then the move was confirmed.

"It’s still a bit of a surprise," Lo Duca said after a recent Marlins game against the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark. "You don’t think it’s going to happen, especially when you’ve been with an organization so long (12 years).

"But it’s been all right – the guys over here have accepted me. It’s been fun so far. Hopefully we can turn it around and start winning more."

After Monday’s action, the Marlins trailed the Braves by eight games in the NL East. The Fish were 4.5 games out of the wild card race, something they won a year ago on their way to a stunning victory over the Yankees in the World Series.

While the Dodgers were heavily criticized for dumping the "heart and soul" of their clubhouse, as many called Lo Duca, they haven’t stopped their winning ways in the NL West.

Los Angeles had a 69-48 record after Monday, with a 5.5-game lead over San Francisco and 6.5-game edge over San Diego.

"I still look up at the scoreboard" at how the Dodgers are doing, said "Brooklyn" Paulie Lo Duca, Paul’s father and now owner of the Bell Rock Inn in the Village of Creek. "I’ve been a Dodger fan for more than 50 years. It’s hard not to be a part of it."

Anthony Lo Duca is six years older than Paul. Frankie Lo Duca is the oldest of the brothers. All three grew up playing and loving baseball thanks to their Brooklyn roots and their father’s connection to the game.

After moving to Arizona, they all played high school ball down in the Valley.

Although Anthony’s career ended after junior college, Paul kept going, eventually ending up at Arizona State before being drafted.

All three brothers played mostly infield positions in high school. Paul was actually a first and third baseman with the Dodgers organization until coaches moved him to catcher full-time in 1996.

"Anthony was as good as Paulie in high school," Brooklyn Paulie said. "Maybe Paulie had a little bit more pop in his bat."

Paul, who was hitting a robust .314 with the Marlins as of Monday, says he owes a lot to Anthony and Frankie. By being typical older brothers, they helped prepare him for the rigors of being a Major League catcher.

"They beat me up a little bit and showed me the hard knocks of life," he said. "But they made me a tough person. When I was in trouble or when things were going good, they’ve always been on my side."

Brooklyn Paulie moved to Sedona from Phoenix in 1997, after his wife passed away. He worked with Los Abrigados as the manager of an Italian restaurant.

He eventually bought the Bell Rock Inn and asked Anthony to move up from the Valley in 2001 to help run the Inn’s restaurant, now known as the Brooklyn Café.

The popular restaurant and "sports lounge" definitely has a baseball and sports flavor to it, including prominently displayed photos of Dodgers’ greats and popular manager Tommy Lasorda.

In 2003, Sedona Red Rock High School tabbed Anthony to coach its varsity baseball team.

It didn’t take long for the Scorpions to respond under Lo Duca’s leadership. This past spring, they earned the school’s first-ever playoff berth in 3A baseball. They didn’t stop there, roaring into the Final Four before falling to Higley at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Ironically, a bulldog of a catcher who plays the game much like Paul Lo Duca – recent graduate Mark Gaulden – led the Scorpions’ charge into history. Gaulden will now move on to play college ball and hope for his shot some day in the Majors.

"It’s a grind," Paul Lo Duca said about the life of a catcher. "But I love it because you’re in every play of every game. You’re a big part of what goes on out there. The wear and tear does get to you, but it’s all right."

As for what advice Paul the Major Leaguer would give his older brother on coaching a 3A high school baseball team?

"Both of my brothers are very knowledgeable. I don’t need to tell them a word. They know what’s going on."

Paul is in the last year of his current MLB contract. He is arbitration eligible after this season.

Though a team like Arizona may covet him in the off-season, Lo Duca may continue to wear the teal and black of the Marlins going into 2005.

"The Marlins expressed interest in keeping me," he said. "What I’ve known from the organization, they’ve been great to me. I don’t see why they wouldn’t be my first option."

No matter where Lo Duca ends up, though, to many he will always be a true blue Dodger.

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